Thursday, March 1, 2012

Illiana? Not when it comes to smoking

It never fails to amaze me how dissimilar the political mentalities are between Illinois and Indiana – considering that in so many ways the two states ought to be among the most similar in the United States.
DeLUCA: Won't ban bacon double cheeseburger

But then, all we have to do is take into account the concept of banning the smoking of tobacco products in public places and we’ll see that State Line Road really has become a barrier as rigid as those walls that the conservative ideologues dream of erecting at the U.S./Mexico border.

THE ISSUE CAME up this week at both of the Statehouses (Springfield and Indianapolis), but with ridiculously differing results.

Here in Illinois, the state laws that restrict cigarette smoking in public places were enacted a few years ago.

Which led to an effort that came up for a vote on Tuesday on a bill that would create a new kind of state-issued license – one by which taverns could apply for if they wish to permit smoking in their establishments.

Which would mean the state would be able to regulate where people could smoke. It also would allow those taverns who are so desperate to have smokers (rather than people who would prefer not to inhale the exhaust from tobacco products) to be able to accommodate those customers.

THE MEASURE ACTUALLY made it through a legislative committee before getting shot down by an overwhelming vote (82 to 30) by the Illinois House of Representatives.

Critics called the measure a way to try to chip chunks out of the smoking ban that was enacted in Illinois to look out for the health concerns not only of the public, but also of the people who are employed in such taverns and would be subjected to breathing in cigarette smoke while working.
BROWN: Bill shredded like burger

Although it strikes me as ironic that the legislator who sponsored this particular measure is state Rep. Anthony DeLuca, D-Chicago Heights, whose legislative district includes such suburbs as Lynwood and Sauk Village – the Cook County towns that border up against Indiana.

Perhaps it is the intermingling of Illinoisans and Hoosiers that takes place on a daily basis at the southeastern corner of the Chicago area that causes an Indiana-style bill to get introduced into the Illinois political mix.

EVEN DELUCA’S DEFENSE that this is supposedly a matter of personal choice to smoke (which ignores the personal choice of those who don’t want to be subjected to the smoke) sounds Hoosier-ish – although I’m sure some will think his sarcastic line in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about the next ban being on the “bacon double cheeseburger” is clever.

We may even have people at the Statehouse in Indianapolis thinking similar thoughts these days, as the issue is being considered there – as well.

Only in Indiana, the political pundits are claiming that state Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, is somehow tainted by his proximity to Chicago and Illinois. Brown has been the leading proponent for Indiana enacting something resembling a public smoking ban, and it was his bill earlier this week that got chopped up into hamburger (perhaps for those bacon double cheeseburgers).

For his bill got significantly amended by the Indiana state Senate, which was expected to approve their weakened version. Proponents of a ban are hopeful that a legislative committee can reconcile it with an Indiana House version and come up with something tougher.

BUT AS AMENDED, Indiana would ban smoking in public – EXCEPT in taverns, charity gambling sites, nursing homes, veterans homes, retirement centers, group homes and mental health facilities.

When one considers that the Indiana version of a ban already exempted places like riverboat casinos, cigar and hookah bars, tobacco shops and private clubs, the real mystery will be to figure out just where an Indiana smoking ban would actually apply.

And yes, Indiana officials also voted to approve a measure making it clear that local governments do NOT have the authority to impose stricter laws within their own municipal boundaries.

It will be interesting to see how this issue is resolved in Indiana by the time the state Legislature is through with it for this year. For it seems that tobacco rules on the east side of State Line Road.

WHICH MAKES ME wonder if we could get an exodus of Hoosiers wishing to look out for their health – similar to those small businesses near the border that have moved into Indiana so they could get away with paying a couple of percentage points less in taxes to the state.

I’d say that would be a good trade, since if all the smokers were congregated in Indiana, their long-term health prognosis would be such that they’d wither away in numbers.

Although on a more serious note, I should say that the people who are most eager for their legal right to smoke in public remind me too much of the childhood bullies who terrorized the schoolyard to get their way. Now, they’ve got some money to afford a pack-or-two habit that they think they have some legal right to inflict on the rest of us.

Which makes me all the more glad I live to the west of State Line Road.



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